Low impact exercise can broadly be defined as exercise that allows at least one foot to be in contact with the ground at all times. That includes pilates, tai chi, and water-based exercises.
Low impact exercises are especially good for cancer patients and survivors because the movements tend to be less jarring on the body and joints, and less intense. This leaves room for slow reintroduction of activity after and during cancer treatment.
What is tai chi?
Tai chi is a form of slow exercise and moving mediation with roots in Chinese philosophy. Tai chi does not require special equipment or space—it uses the body to flow through movements, keeping the muscles and joints relaxed the entire time. The motions may be named for animal actions or martial arts [i].
Benefits of tai chi
Even though tai chi is a low impact exercise, it can still improve muscle strength and flexibility, balance, and respiratory and aerobic conditioning. Tai chi has also been shown to reduce fatigue in breast cancer patients, improve pain, and enhance sleep quality.
The mind-body features of tai chi are helpful for those affected by cancer and chronic disease because they teach people to respond peacefully and mindfully to the obstacles in their lives.
Research findings suggest that practicing tai chi may improve balance and stability in older people and those with Parkinson’s, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people cope with fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and mood in people with heart failure and cancer [ii] [iii] [iv].
Words to know
Qi: an energy force thought to flow through the body
Qigong (or chi kung): this means “breath work” or “energy work” and consists of gentle breathing to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy; all styles of Qigong involve a posture, breathing techniques, and mental focus
Yin and Yang: these are opposing elements that make up the universe; they need to be kept in harmony
Experts in tai chi believe that disease results when the flow of Qi is blocked and when there is disharmony between the Yin and Yang forces. Tai chi exercises may balance these forces and promote the flow of Qi for improved health.
Finding an instructor
Tai chi instructors do not have to be licensed, and the practice is not regulated by the Federal Government or individual states. Various tai chi organizations offer training and certification programs—with differing criteria and levels of certification for instructors [iv].
Ask your healthcare provider or a nearby hospital to recommend a tai chi or qi gong instructor. When considering a class or instructor, ask about the instructor’s training and experience.
Want a sneak peak at some tai chi movements and stretches? Check out The Arthritis Foundation’s website, which features a few videos that demonstrate tai chi, or browse the Tai Chi Health page for some fundamental and basic tai chi movement videos.
Be sure to speak with your physician and health care team before starting any new exercise regimen or making changes to your current routine. Tell your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use to manage your health.
[i] Integrative Medicine: Tai Chi. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Website. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/tai-chi Last updated February 25, 2015. Accessed September 1, 2015.
[ii] The Health Benefits of Tai Chi: Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School Website. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi May 1, 2009. Accessed September 1, 2015.
[iii] Tai Chi: A gentle way to fight stress. Mayo Clinic Website. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184 June 25, 2015. Accessed September 1, 2015.
[iv] Tai Chi and Qi Gong. NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Website. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm Published June 2006. Last updated August 21, 2015. Accessed September 1, 2015.